Diet and Nutrition

What Does GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Mean?

What Does GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Mean?

Key Takeaways

  • GMOs are organisms that have altered genetic material instead of being naturally produced by mating or natural recombination. They can be animals, plants, or microorganisms. 
  • Genetically modified foods offer an opportunity to redesign plants and other organisms through the use of recombinant DNA or gene splicing.
  • GM food crops can be grown in areas where normal plants can't grow and can be used to sustain the ecosystem.

GMOs are organisms that have altered genetic material instead of being naturally produced by mating or natural recombination. They can be animals, plants, or microorganisms. Genetically modified organisms are not new to the market. It has been around for a while and its use is widespread. Most biotech companies have patents in place to restrict the current usage of GM foods.

The genome of other organisms is often added to the genetic makeup of other organisms through recombinant DNA therapy or gene splicing. In theory, it sounds great, but when biotech companies started producing gigantic sheaves of wheat along with fish that glow in the dark, it brought the issue into sharp focus. Altering the genetic makeup of living organisms is often rife with its own set of inherent risks. Apart from this, most biotech companies have applied and got patents for their products, which has resulted in its own set of issues where individual farmers often get sued by these companies for even permitting the modified plant grains to take root on their farm.

Advantages of GMOs

Genes are culled and inserted into living organisms such as plants to provide them with added resistance to toxins, diseases, and ambient growth temperatures, thereby making it possible for the crops to be grown under some of the most testing conditions. However, growing genetically modified crops in deserts and other similar areas to feed the local populace has its own advantage. It should be pointed out that most genetically modified foods have undergone little to no human testing, and there have been no empirical records provided by these biotech companies.

Essentially, you would be consuming genetically modified food with a limited idea about their effects on your health in the long run, and whether the changes in the genetic makeup of the food can cause you to develop certain health conditions or not.

And while the risks remain relatively unknown, the fact remains that genetically modified food crops can "infect" other crops through the process of cross-pollination and can alter their genetic makeup as well. Apart from these issues, the fact that most GMOs happen to be food crops, giving them increased resistance to toxins and diseases. The argument goes that consuming GM foods may increase our tolerance to certain antibiotics. 

Risks of Consuming GMOs

The following are some of the inherent risks associated with GMOs.

1. Unhealthy

Although biotech companies have released scarce empirical data regarding the testing of their products, it has been determined that of late, several health issues experienced by many patients are on account of consuming genetically modified foods. While there has been no concrete evidence to link one with the other, doctors have noted that a change in eating habits to consuming GM foods often preceded the onset of serious health issues such as organ damage, gastrointestinal problems, and accelerated aging. It is widely reported that more than 9 percent of Americans develop chronic illnesses because of consuming GM foods. For this reason, it is very important to take a second look at GMOs and consult your doctor about such foods in your diet.

2. Contamination

The fact that the world is already polluted is bad enough. However, now, there's also GMO pollution, wherein the seeds of genetically modified plants can travel far and wide and infect other plants as well. To simply put it, it is hard to control the situation when you have thousands of tons of modified seeds travelling in the wind, infecting other plants at large. This is why it is important to place certain controls and clean the contamination at the earliest before more damage can be done.

3. Herbicide Tolerance

As noted earlier, GM crops tend to cross-pollinate and infect other plants. And while the food crops are genetically engineered to be highly resistant to herbicides, it has unfortunately led to the development of herbicide-resistant plant weeds. The end result is that farmers these days have to use more toxic forms of herbicides to combat plant weeds. However, the process is damaging the environment, not to mention poisoning the soil. Using modified food crops results in an increased use of highly toxic herbicides, which lead to the development of super resistant plant weeds.

4. Cancer

While there are no definitive pieces of evidence linking GM foods to cancer, it has nevertheless noted by doctors and other medical professionals that the regular consumption of GM foods can cause the human body to become deficient in certain proteins that can lead to the development and growth of cancer cells. While no one is claiming that GM foods can cause cancer, it should be noted that they can have a sterilizing effect on the body's defenses, enabling the cancer cells to grow unchecked.

5. Unknown Risks

Apart from cancer, the exponential rise in patients with chronic illnesses has certainly got many medical professionals worried. Moreover, one commonality between them happens to be the regular consumption of GM foods. Scientists have further determined that eating genetically modified foods over a long period of time can affect an individual's immune system and overall health due to nutritional deficiencies. It can also lead other people to develop allergic reactions to certain allergens that their body previously had no reaction to. This is indeed a worrisome trend and one which has resulted in several studies being set up.

6. Governmental Oversight

Usually, governments all over the world have stringent control checks in place. However, that's not the case where GM foods are concerned. Most governments have little or no oversight, and other than the bare regulatory framework to oversee GMOs, no government body in the world has anything in place to oversee and regulate GM foods. Moreover, as a result of a recent lawsuit, it seems that an overwhelming majority of FDA scientists agree with the view that consuming GM foods over long periods of time can have detrimental effects on people's health and create unknown risks.

7. Test Data Rigged

What is concerning most scientists is the fact that nearly every biotech company involved in the mass production of genetically modified crops have reported falsified data, while building up the hype regarding the advantages of GMO. Genetically modified food crops do offer an advantage, but these companies were duty bound to report all test results as they came in and not rig them to suit their company. And if this was not bad enough, most of these biotech companies have started to suppress and discredit independent studies confirming the side effects of consuming GM foods. In fact, there's little difference between tobacco companies and these biotech ones.

8. Damaging the Environment

It has long been claimed that GM foods help preserve the environment, but the opposite seems to be the reality, which can be seen from the effect that these crops have on other plants that grow beside them. Moreover, the fact that the risks and side effects of consuming GM foods over long periods of time remain unknown, but the increasing number of patients with chronic complaints is indeed worrying to most doctors. In addition, the impact on its immediate environment from the development of super resistant plant weeds to infecting other plants can be gauged immediately to an extent. However, its impact on animal life, including birds is yet to be determined. Genetically modified foods do affect the environment, but as to its extent, it can only be determined after more studies are conducted about it.

9. Allergenic Effects

It is only to be expected that if you use genes from a walnut and splice it into food crops, then those who have nut allergies would develop serious allergic reactions from the GM food crop. But the worrying part is that most of these patients develop allergic reactions to food items they have been able to consume in the past. The development of new allergies could be on account of the body's reaction to the genetically modified food.

The Myth

One of the most common myths that are associated with GM foods is that it can help feed the world. The reality is that GM foods often do not provide a full yield, and as such, the claim falls far short of the mark. Even if all biotech companies went on to develop food crops aimed at feeding the world, they would all fall short since nearly all GM food crops rarely give a full yield.

Generation

These days, you can find custom-made GM food products in nearly every supermarket. So the next time you are shopping for your food, make it a point to check out the list of ingredients for any indication if the food in question has been genetically modified or not.

Labels

Given the lax government regulation, most biotech companies market their products to supermarkets in "as it is" packaging with a little small note, which indicates that the product has been genetically modified. This can make it hard for consumers to determine whether the food is genetically modified or not. While companies are mandated to list out all the ingredients they use to develop the food product, it should be pointed out that they are under no requirement to clearly list out that the item in question is genetically modified or not. For this reason, you need to carefully check out the food items in question when purchasing.

The Bottom Line

It is true that most of GM foods are custom-made to be more resistant to toxins and other forms of diseases such as blight. It is also equally true that consuming genetically modified food items over long periods of time can cause you to develop serious side effects. This is why you need to consult your doctor and dietitian before opting to purchase genetically modified food items. After all, it is your health, and naturally, you need to be careful of what you eat, especially since it can lead to the development of serious health complications including cancer.

While genetically modified foods do offer a certain advantage to farmers, it should equally be pointed out that GM foods rarely give a full yield. Moreover, using GM foods can lead to cross-infection including the development of resistant plant weeds.

For these reasons, more studies need to be conducted on genetically modified foods to better understand their long-term effects. Eating genetically modified foods can also lead to the development of new allergies. These are some of the reasons why you need to rethink before purchasing any of those genetically modified food items from the shelves. You may also want to do some individual research on genetically modified food items, the risks associated with them, and then make an informed decision as to whether you would want to buy them or not. It is given that GM crops do provide farmers with an advantage enabling those located even in the most challenging of conditions to grow their crops, but the associated risks are just way too many.